The most frequently used word during a conversation with Matt Cheung, founding director of business consultants Clarasys, is “agile”. It’s a good enough word in itself to describe the young, innovative, London-based firm, which has doubled in size since it was founded in 2011, now boasting 45 employees and a global clientele. Yet agile has a broader resonance at Clarasys, defining its collaborative, process-driven approach to helping companies absorb and benefit from change.
“Companies find it very hard to visualise outcomes for programmes that run over years in a virtual world,” says Cheung. “So you have to build in the fact that reality will change over time and that is what agile is about. Agile helps you make incremental steps towards your goal.”
Present and correct
The experience of working for large multinationals earlier in his career taught Cheung that, all too frequently, mistakes were rehashed without anyone analysing their root cause.
“With Clarasys, I wanted to be able to drive change, which can be difficult in a large company,” he says. “The idea behind Clarasys is that there is a scarcity in the market for really bright people who can understand what a person is telling them, solve the things that aren’t working and help that person do their job better and have a better quality of life.”
Cheung calls this “clarity through analysis”, and the process-driven approach of Clarasys is structured so that a client benefits from rapid improvements within the framework of an ongoing project geared towards long-term goals. Says Cheung: “We want clients to be able to say ‘we’ve spent a million this year. Along the way we’ve learned a lot, so the next million can be spent in a different, more effective way’.”
This may sound deceptively simple, but it requires sophisticated business analysis and an ability to communicate effectively at each stage of a consultation. “We don’t need someone with 10 years’ experience to do a lot of what we do,” says Cheung. “But being able to translate an understanding of a situation and communicate that with clarity is essential.” Consultants at Clarasys work on a range of long- and short-term projects, requiring them to be adaptable. “We are all learning new skills all the time,” says Cheung.
Mentoring for graduates
Graduates make up around one third of the current intake at Clarasys. Each such recruit completes a five-week training course before they get the chance to meet clients. Once they’ve overcome that hurdle, and with mentoring support from their colleagues, they take on a pro bono project for a charity. Often, the business solutions that Clarasys proposes require staff to rethink how or, indeed, if they will work in the future. “Change can be very difficult,” says Cheung, “so we need to be open and sensitive in handling it.”
Clarasys has ambitious growth plans, aiming for around 200 staff and £20 million in revenue by 2020. “Currently, we are small and nimble,” says Cheung, “and, as we grow, we need to keep our identity and keep challenging how things are done.”
Having founded Clarasys in order to drive change, allowing his own staff to have an impact on company life and strategy is a key commitment for Cheung. “We don’t have a rigid hierarchy here and no one gets pigeonholed,” he says. “If you want to get something done, so long as it’s a good idea, you can help change how we work.” Agile indeed.